Up, up and away

23 May 2017

Ben Morgan, Christian Adair and Neal Mistry from The Roundhill Academy have been taking part in a space balloon project at the school. Read their report below:

Earlier this month, The Roundhill Academy, Thurmaston (Leics), launched a high-altitude balloon carrying a payload containing cameras, a black box, GPS tracker and, for good measure, a bag of salt and vinegar crisps!

In late 2015, the school opened the opportunity for students to take part in a balloon project, and a team of science students applied. Over the next few months, they met up with their science teacher, Mr Hargrave, every Tuesday after school to prepare a payload capsule, so it would withstand the extreme conditions caused by altitude.

The project was put on hold briefly during 2016, but at the start of the Autumn Term it was revived, and a huge amount of progress was made for the preparations. The capsule was shaped using cutting tools and a heated copper rod; the cameras were reprogrammed to film and take pictures whilst using battery life efficiently. The GPS trackers were connected to a mobile phone by SIM card.

The launch was planned for the 2017 Summer Term. A few weeks prior, the team had to present several assemblies about the project and the science behind it to the rest of the school. This was well received by the other students.

The final launch date was confirmed for 11 May at 0900, with landing predictors hypothesised for it to end up near Wakerley in Northamptonshire, near the river Welland.

Before the launch everything was being prepared and the whole school watched. One of the science teachers, Mr Lindley had live streamed the preparation. The balloon was filled with 1000grams of helium, the brave box prepared and full of cameras, a tracker and a miniature black box. So, at 0910 hrs after a few delays, the balloon launched successfully and accelerated perfectly vertically into a vast blue sky, however, just as the countdown reached 1, the live stream cut out!

The team gave the balloon an hour before giving chase, driving to the predicted landing site. They arrived early and consumed the majority of a galaxy bar and some salted cashews, waiting patiently for the balloon to respond to the tracker and gracefully drop into a nearby field. This didn’t happen, of course. An hour passed before the team decided the tracker must have failed in the brutally cold stratosphere and they must’ve missed it. The futile mission to search the boundless fields of neck high rapeseed and corn began, which, of course, was also unsuccessful.

They informed some of the local community on their space capsule, hoping it would turn up in one of their back yards. As of today, the status of the balloon remains unknown. Perhaps it’s still buoyant 80,000ft above Spain, or perhaps it’s at the top of that tall tree that hangs over your shed.

Either way, the team believe eventually it will be returned, and they will give this project another go. They also hope to share the capsule and equipment with other Ogden partner schools…. So, fingers crossed!


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